Cave secrets unlocked to show past drought and rainfall patterns | 5/5/2015 | Staff
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A first-ever global analysis of cave drip waters has shown where stalagmites can provide vital clues towards understanding past rainfall patterns.

In a study published recently in Nature Communications, UNSW Sydney scientists led an international group of researchers to amass the data of 163 drip sites in 39 caves on five continents.

Climates - Temperature - Isotopes - Oxygen - Drip

They found that in climates that have a mean average temperature of less than 10oC, isotopes of oxygen in cave drip water were similarly composed as those measured in rainwater. As UNSW's Dr. Andy Baker explains, this follows what you would expect in colder climates with less evaporation of rainfall.

"This oxygen in the water drips from the stalactites and onto the stalagmites," says Dr. Baker from UNSW's School of Biological and Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Drip - Water - Rainfall - Link - Surface

"The drip water originally comes from rainfall, providing a direct link to the surface climate. Understanding the extent to which the oxygen isotopic composition of drip water is related to rainfall is a fundamental research question which will unlock the full climate potential of stalagmites and stalactites."

But when the researchers examined the oxygen isotopes in drip waters in warmer areas, the oxygen isotopes in the drip waters corresponded to just some of the rain events, as revealed in the stalagmites. Dr. Baker says that in such climates,...
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